Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Republicans For Voldemort," and Other Unhelpful Slogans

Way back in about 2007 or so, I first started noticing a certain slogan, prominently displayed on numerous cars and T-shirts in the Ann Arbor area:

At first, I thought they were funny. Republicans are evil, and so is Voldemort, so it makes sense that they would support him! Har har har! Good one, guys!

But after a while, a niggling little doubt began to gnaw at the back of my mind. Perhaps Repiblicans were not, after all, the Nosferatu-esque monsters I had always assumed they were. Perhaps, just perhaps, they were people. Not real flesh-and-blood humans like you and I, but they do have children (I've seen the pictures!), and so maybe they're not as universally reviled as I imagined.

I began to doubt in the unassailable rightness of my cause. How could I groan at news of Republicans refusing to "cross the aisle" and get stuff done, if I spent my free time accusing them of being Death Eaters.

Even if done in jest, such barbs are often harmful. In a way, the dismissiveness of the slogan made it even worse. As Dumbledore himself pointed out, "[i]ndifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike" (Order of the Phoenix, pg. 834).

Recently, the meme has mutated, producing the virulent "Sarah Palin is actually a vampire" strain. Let me state, for the record, that I disagree with Sarah Palin's views on virtually every subject, from rape survivors' rights to the proper handling of the Gulf Oil Spill.

But I do not hate her. I strongly disagree with her, just as she has a right strongly disagree with me. That's how democracy works. I will not support her bid for any public office, but I know she's not the delusional half-wit that many liberals make her out to be. She can't have made it to the Governorship of Alaska without knowing how to do something right!

Besides, we don't disagree on everything. Recently, she joined a growing list of petitioners calling for Florida-based Rev. Terry Jones to quit being a dumbass and not turn the entire Islamic world against us forever by burning a big pile of Korans on Sept. 11. At least she and I can agree on something. Right?

And so, you liberals out there who still enjoy ridiculing people whose views differ from yours by accusing them of being in league with the villain of a Young Adult fantasy series, I have a request for you:

Stop it. You're hurting America.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: "American Born Chinese," by Gene Luen Yang

This is actually the second time I've read this book, which should tell you something about how much I like it.

Honestly, this is one of the finest graphic novels I've read. The story is funny and engaging, the art is simple and clean, and the blending of Chinese folklore, modern-day high school drama, and racial politics is deft and precise. Nothing feel arbitrary or out of place. In fact, since it's my second reading, I'm able to look at little details in a new light, and realize that the author was dropping little clues throughout the book. Nothing that could possibly give away the ending; just little things that take on new meaning on the second read-through.

The narrative consists of three seemingly-separate threads:

1) the story of the Monkey King, one of the most-beloved heroes of Chinese folklore;
2) the story of Jin Wang, an American-born Chinese boy who moves to a new, largely Asian-free school; and
3) a purposely-painful sitcom about a boy named Danny, tormented by the annual visits of his unbearably Fresh-Off the Boat cousin, Chin-Kee.

Being a white, upper-middle class American male, it's sometimes difficult for me to really understand what it's like to be seen as an outsider. That said, Mr. Yang's book does an excellent job of conveying that sense of other-ness. Mostly this comes in the form of the seemingly random and arbitrary taunts which Jin Wang and his other Asian classmates receive from white students.

Jock #1: "Hey, I chink it's getting a little nippy out here."
Jock #2: "You're right! I'm gettin' gook bumps!"

It's moments like these, when Jin Wang's classmates gang up on him without any provocation, which make him so powerfully appealing to the reader. It makes you truly understand how the dual pressures of assimilation and rejection combine forces to tear apart the young man's psyche. He wants to be accepted, but he wants to be left alone. he tries his best to act white, but no matter what he does, his otherness is always in the spotlight. He's embarrassed by who he is.

If you're looking for a book that can powerfully and concisely explain to you the difficulties involved in growing up Asian-American, then I strongly recommend this book.


I hadn't realized this the first time (I'm embarrassed to say), but this is a very Christian book. It wasn't until I read on the back flap that the author "teaches computer science at a Roman Catholic high school" that everything fell into place.

I'd noticed a few hints of Christian imagery here and there (Wong Lai-Tsao and the Monkey King following a star on their journey; the adoration of the infant Buddha, etc.), but I figured it was just part of the original myth. And it may well be. But that doesn't stop it from resonating with Christin themes.

The name of the principal deity of Chinese folklore, Tze-Yo-Tzuh, is here translated as "He Who Is", an obvious allusion to Yahweh, whose name means roughly the same in Hebrew.

The Monkey King eventually gains the title of "Heavenly Emissary". In the later chapters, his abilities and puposes are similar to those of a guardian angel, which is highly appropriate, since our word "angel" comes from the Latin angelus, which means "messenger" or "emissary". (Coincidence? I think not.)

You can find plenty more examples of Christian influence in this book, if you look for it, but Yang never beats us over the head with it. Yang allows the reader to draw their own parallels between the story of the Monkey King and the biographies of any number of Christian saints.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Defense of LARPers

The other day, Brianna's friend Nicky was asking me about "Vampire," and how the game works. One of the questions she asked was whether or not we dress up and act out the parts. I told her no, we don't do LARPing (Live-Action Role-Playing).

"That's one bridge we don't want to cross," I said.

Suddenly (and quite unexpectedly), Brianna told me that I was being unfair to LARPers, and should stop making fun of them. She told me that I'm constantly ridiculing LARPers for their passion, and that since I spend my Wednesday nights pretending to be a vampire (who spends his time in the library, no less), I didn't have a rhetorical leg to stand on. I confessed that I hadn't realized how often I denigrated LARPers, but that they were just "weird", and "way too into it."

Brianna's first contact with the phenomenon of LARPing came from the movie Role Models, so she approached LARPing from a more positive angle than most people do. To her, LARPing and traditional tabletop RPGs are just different points on a continuum of nerdyness. In fact, she said, LARPers always look like they're having a blast, doing what they love, and getting sunlight, fresh air, and exercise. Who am I to ridicule them for doing what they love?

The intensity of the verbal drubbing I received forced me to open my eyes. I realized that I was not only being unfair to LARPers, but to all nerds, and even to my personal philosophy of nerdyness.

Brianna was right. I am being unfair to LARPers. They've never done anything to harm or hurt me, and they don't bother anyone. All they do is have fun with their friends, in the way they most enjoy. And there's nothing wrong with that.

So from now on, I will do my level best never to make fun of LARPers again. They've done nothing wrong, and all nerds must stand together if we're going to gain any kind of widespread acceptance of our passions and hobbies.